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Sanctions not the answer to Syrian woes

Scott Patterson
By Scott Patterson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 31, 2005
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On Tuesday the U.S., Britain and (believe it or not) France introduced a resolution to the U.N. Security Council that, if approved, will lay the groundwork for future sanctions against Syria. The idea behind the sanctions is to coerce the Syrian government into fully cooperating with U.N. officials investigating the murder of Lebanon's prime minister earlier this year.

Sanctions, however, will not solve this problem, but more importantly, the blurred way in which the resolution was written implies that, if passed, abuse is inevitable.

The recent string of events were set into motion when the U.N. chief investigator, German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, released a report on Thursday that concluded senior Syrian security officials organized the killing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri with the help of their allies in Lebanese security. Hariri was killed in a Valentine's Day truck bombing in Beirut.

The conclusion to paragraph 123 of the report states, "there is probable cause to believe" that the decision to assassinate Hariri could not have been made without the approval of top-ranked Syrian security officials, adding that it could not have been organized "without the collusion of their counterparts in the Lebanese security services."

The report also accused Syria of not fully cooperating with the U.N. investigators.

Syrian officials, as expected, denounced the report. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the U.S., dismissed the report, saying it was "easy to blame Syria," as doing so "helps the U.S. reach its political goals." Syria's U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad called the draft resolution "a U.S. agenda against Syria."

The resolution grew from the aftermath of the aforementioned report. It's important to point out that the resolution, at its core, makes rational, legitimate demands. It is when you move to the "or else" phase that the resolution falls apart. If Syria refuses to cooperate, the Security Council is to consider "further measures."

"Further measures," while generally read as "economic sanctions," is open for interpretation, meaning that if the U.S. wants to impose sanctions on Syria, yet knows that outwardly advocating them will effectively kill the resolution (i.e. eliciting veto from Russia or China), prior to ratifying the resolution, the U.S. can deny intent to sanction Syria, and then, after the resolution has gone into force, the U.S. can flip its position and use the document to justify imposing the sanctions it claimed not to want.

This is exactly what happened with the war in Iraq. Resolution 1441 received unanimous support from the U.N. Security Council with the understanding that force would not be applied without the passage of a second resolution. After passing 1441, however, the U.S. ignored previous understood agreements and cited portions of 1441 such as "serious consequences" for any "material breach" as justification for invading Iraq.

Moreover, sanctions to be imposed would be levied with the understanding that once Syria begins to cooperate, they will be repealed. Unfortunately, however, there is no evidence to support that this would occur. In fact, evidence to the contrary hints that the sanctions would be used to extract additional concessions from Syria, such as a tougher stance on insurgents crossing into Iraq or a more vigorous approach to disarming militant groups.

The situation is analogous to the war in Iraq. When we went to war, Bush said Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was an imminent threat to the security of the U.S. Then, as doubts about the accuracy of this claim arose, war proponents contended that Saddam Hussein was a bad man, and despite not having WMDs, getting rid of him was justification in itself. Next, the "we can't leave until we finish the job" argument surfaced. Today, Bush asserts that we must stay, or the 2,000-plus dead soldiers will have died in vain.

In short, unclear phrases are unclear for a reason - so they can be interpreted equally as unclearly. Because interpretations change to match the direction the political winds are blowing, leaving these kinds of phrases in documents of such import is unacceptable. Thus, when the foreign ministers of the 15 Security Council member-states plus Syria meet today in New York, they must eliminate its ambiguity or the consequences could be drastic.

Scott Patterson is an international studies senior. He can be reached at

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